The Rechabite Letter

While going through some of my mother’s mementos [she’s still alive, but we were clearing out a few boxes], I found a letter dated 18th February, 1842. It was addressed to Mrs. J. M. Mallock and delivered by hand.

Apparently, there is something called the Independent Order of Rechabites, founded in England in 1835 “as part of the wider temperance movement to promote total abstinence from alcoholic beverages.” Who knew?

The Rechabite Letter

It’s a fascinating letter and clearly one that created quite a fuss amongst the family, including letters sent back to the originator – one Reverend William Bell – protesting his ‘command’.

Here’s the text:

Know all men, by this declaration, that I Willian Bell, Minister of the first Presbyterian Church at Perth, in the Bathurst District of Upper Canada, perceiving the awful and ruinous consequences which follow the use of intoxicating drinks, to the bodies and the souls of mankind, have resolved never again to use any of them myself, as a common beverage, nor to offer them to others, and to enjoin the same thing upon all my children, and their descendants to the latest generation. I therefore, after a scripture example sanctioned by divine authority, do hereby command and enjoin you, my daughter, to follow this my example, and to obey this my command, and to enjoin the same upon your children, in order that they may be honest, industrious, and temperate; – that they may avoid temptation, and live in the fear of God; – that he may bless them in time, and take them to Heaven when they die.

And, in order that happiness, that great end I have here in view, may be the more effectually secured to my posterity, I hereby forbid them to make intermarriages, in all time coming, with any who refuse to join with them in following this my example.

Resolved this 5th day of February 1842, under much painful anxiety for the fate of those who refuse to follow my example and obey my command.

A copy of this to be sent to each of my surviving children, reminding them of the duty of honouring their father and their mother (for she also joins with me in this act) that their days may be long upon the land which the Lord their God giveth them. This duty, it has long been pressed upon my mind, I ought to discharge before I die, as a witness and a guard against the sin of intemperance, to you and to all others to who this shall come; and I now pray that God may bless it to all whose benefit it is intended. Let all remember that no drunkard shall inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

That you may be saved from all your enemies, and be made a monument of divine mercy, is the fervent prayer of your affectionate, but much afflicted father.

I’m not sure how the Mallocks are related to me, but I am certain that these people are relatives of some sort!


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website

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13 Responses

    1. I had the same reaction, Debbie. Did you notice how he dismissed his wife’s endorsement with a few bracketed words! But this is now and that was then. But Isabella – the daughter to whom he wrote the letter – sent a protest letter in return (I don’t have that letter). I will however, post another related letter to show the dust-up this created!

  1. Oh, that tone of command just sets my teeth on edge. I wonder whether his wife or any of his kids were cowed by him and which (if any) of his kids moved far enough away to escape him?

    1. Hadn’t thought about the kids moving away … these are new relatives to me, and from a long ago time so there don’t seem to be any surviving family stories.

  2. What an amazing letter! He sounds so stern and strict! It’s a wonderful glimpse into the anti-temperance movement, though. I wonder if it had any effect on the rest of the family.

  3. While the temperance movement seems a bit unsavory to us today in hindsight, the truth is that it was a very feminist movement, because drunk men often beat their wives. Furthermore, the temperance movement’s help in saving women from drunken husbands was the lead in to the women’s suffrage movement, as well as laying the groundwork for Alcoholics Anonymous. Unfortunately, it also was the catalyst for organized crime!

    1. Hi Davida .. thanks for sharing this perspective. Although it didn’t come to mind when I first discovered the letter, I’m sure you’re right!

      1. I learned about this aspect of the temperance movement after some actor was researching her ancestry on that TV show, and she found that one of her female ancestors was a leader in the temperance movement, and then went on to be one of the first women to vote in her state after suffrage! It was very cool how they connected those dots.

  4. The biblical influences on both the language and thinking in this letter are fascinating. One wonders how the writer spoke in informal settings. Wouldn’t it make a great opening for a novel, Mary?

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